State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Alumna Planting ‘Seeds’ for Sustainable Education in Africa

By Asif Shah

AttiAtti Worku is an alumna of the Undergraduate Sustainable Development Program. Intern Asif Shah asked her for thoughts about the program; she also spoke about her foundation and offered advice for current students.

What is your employment status and title at this time? How long have you been in the position?

I am working for the foundation I created, Seeds of Africa as an executive director. I have been in this position through school but became full time after graduating in 2014.

How did you find your current position/program? What resources/methods did you find most useful?

This was a position I had while in school although I was not full time yet. What I learned in this program has made me a better leader and problem solver for our programs in Ethiopia.

What do you enjoy the most and what do you find the most challenging in your current position/program?

What I enjoy the most is that I get to have to opportunity to solve real-life problems that affect hundreds of children and women that are part of our education and community development programs. I enjoy that I work with the community I came from, and find solutions that enable people to come out of poverty and flourish in collaboration with the people who benefit from the programs. My work is as challenging as it is enjoyable. From figuring out how build a sustainable school in Adama, Ethiopia which can withstand climate change issues from access to water source to the rise in temperature in the region, to finding the funds to continue existing programs is not an easy task.

Are you able to utilize any skills/knowledge from the program in your day-to-day activities?  

Yes, everyday.

What courses in the program have been most useful to you professionally?

I took a non-traditional route for a SDEV student, and took classes from other schools on campus like Mailman. The SDEV courses were all helpful for analyzing the risks people will have in the next decade or so due to climate change, in addition to chronic poverty; classes in global health and management helped me understand the complexity of issues people in poverty face and how the solutions have to be sophisticated in order to be effective.

What was your favorite course in the program, and why?

Dr. Sachs’ class was my favorite because it showed me how the world sees the community I come from. And it pushed me further to work with children who will grow up in Ethiopia/Africa and have the opportunity to solve their own problems in a more authentic way that speaks to them and their communities. I am a strong believer that local solutions are essential for a just and sustainable world.

What post-graduation advice would you give students in the program?

To be open minded about what industries they can work in and what kind of career they can have. A bachelor degree is just the beginning and students should be open to explore new opportunities that may look unusual. Also to take risk for something they believe in, and travel and study abroad. I didn’t get to do that, and I wish I did.

Columbia’s Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development is an interdisciplinary program that addresses sustainable development through an understanding in the interaction between natural and social systems, offered through The Earth Institute in partnership with Columbia College and the School of General Studies. Participating departments and schools of the sustainable development major and special concentration include the Department of Earth and Environmental Biology; the Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering; the School of International and Public Affairs and the Mailman School of Public Health.

To learn more about the Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development, visit our website or contact Program Manager Jessica Sotomayor at

Asif Shah is an intern for the Office of Academic and Research Programs at the Earth Institute. He is an undergraduate senior studying economics and political science at Columbia College.





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Vijay K Vijayaratnam
Vijay K Vijayaratnam
7 years ago

Congratulations to the future leaders of Sustainable Development.In fact South Africa can be proud to have successfully held the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 which I participated at the invitation of one its Ministers.Sustainable Development and management should become a way of life and a role model for rest of the world.It should not end with SDG 2030 but beyond towards the end of century and beyond.Best wishes to all.